Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Old vs. New: The Last Airbender Movie

"Avatar: The Last Airbender" is one of Nickelodeon's finest accomplishments. It is the story of a young boy chosen by destiny to wield the four ancient elements of Fire, Earth, Water, and Air to bring peace to the four nations built upon those elements. Afraid of his destiny and the sacrifices he would need to make to fulfill it, Aang, already a master of the Air element (or Airbender) runs away from the monastery that is his home. He accidentally binds himself unconscious for a hundred years, which allows the Firebending Nation to destroy the other Airbenders and begin to conquer the Waterbending and Earthbending Tribes.

When Aang is revived by a young Waterbender named Katara and her older brother Sokka, he sees what his absence has done to the world. He resolves finally to fulfill his destiny and balance the elements once more. To do this, he must complete his training and master the three remaining disciplines. Katara and Sokka join him in his quest, and along the way they help to free other tribes and villages from the Fire Nation's oppression.

It's an epic fantasy in every sense, and when the movie adaptation was announced (especially with award-winning director M. Night Shyamalan at the helm), it caused no small amount of excitement among fans of the series. However, when the movie was released, it caused no small amount of disappointment. Critical and fan reviews alike have been unsparing in criticism, and I cannot disagree. Aside from stunning visuals and spectacular fight scenes, the film doesn't have much to offer viewers.

You can't take six half-hour TV episodes, put them back to back, and call it a movie. Unfortunately, that seems to be what Mr. Shyamalan has done. When adapting a TV show into a movie, you often are forced to package a ridiculous amount of exposition into the screenplay, depending on how long the show has been running. If the show is still on the air, then you are further forced to keep the movie in the same vein as the show without interrupting the continuity. If it's been cancelled, then your film is generally the capstone, the sequel or "final episode" that everyone really wanted to see.

That's not what you get with "The Last Airbender". It is, in short, a recap of the "most important" moments from the first season of the show. There was no great or noticeable deviation from the storyline, and nothing exciting or new was added. The film was merely a live-action version of the cartoon series. It was a wasted effort, in my opinion. By picking and choosing what information and scenes from the cartoon to adapt into the film, much of the richness of plot and character development was left behind. At just under ninety minutes, even actors like Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaires") and Jackson Rathbone (the Twilight saga) don't have much time to bring their respective characters of Prince Zuko and Sokka to life in the way their cartoon counterparts were able to. Newcomers Noah Ringer and Nicola Peltz gave good performances, but even they did not have the life or likeability that cartoon Aang and Katara had.

It wasn't a bad movie; not as bad as most think, at least. I'd recommend it for anyone who hasn't seen the TV series (though I'd recommend they choose the TV series instead); but for anyone who has seen Nickelodeon's "Airbender", you'll get nothing from this adaptation, and you even may find that you've lost something in the process. In my opinion, this will be the last Airbender movie.

(Read the original review here.)

1 comment:

  1. I'd never seen an episode of the series before watching this film, but I went in with moderate expectations. After all, I've liked Shyamalan even when others did not (I love The Village, and I thought The Lady in the Water was intriguing and sufficiently thought provoking).
    For the $5 I paid to see it, I did not feel it was a waste of time or money, but it was still a disappointment. Even with people like Shyamalan and James Newton Howard involved, it was lacking in almost everything but impressive visuals. The acting was flat (though Katara and Uncle Iroh had some good moments)- Sokka was just terrible, I thought- and the bending of the elements was surprisingly not too impressive. Sure, the dance-like moves were neat to watch, but I thought bending elements would be somehow... cooler.

    Later that week, in spending time with friends who are huge fans of the series, I got to watch a few episodes. They only made the disappointment greater. The series did have all the movie lacked, including humor (and the bending in the series was WAY cooler- everything I expected it to be!).

    In short (or long, as the case often is with me), as much as I have loved Shyamalan's films, I fear that the rumors that this may be a career-ending movie for him may end up being true. As my oldest sister suggested, maybe he just needs to wait ten years and then start making movies again... under a pseudonym!